Influence of Transient Emotional Episodes on Affective and Cognitive Theory of Mind


Our emotions may influence how we interact with others. Previous studies have shown an important role of emotion induction in generating empathic reactions towards others’ affect. However, it remains unclear whether (and to which extent) our own emotions can influence the ability to infer peo-ple’s mental states, a process associated with Theory of Mind (ToM) and implicated in the representation of both cognitive (e.g., beliefs, intentions) and affective conditions. We engaged 59 participants in two emotion-induction experiments where they saw joyful, neutral, and fearful clips. Subsequently, they were asked to infer other individuals’ joy, fear (affective ToM), or beliefs (cognitive ToM) from verbal scenarios. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that brain activity in the su-perior temporal gyrus, precuneus, and sensorimotor cortices were modulated by the preceding emo-tional induction, with lower response when the to-be-inferred emotion was incongruent with the one induced in the observer (affective ToM). Instead, we found no effect of emotion induction on the appraisal of people’s beliefs (cognitive ToM). These findings are consistent with embodied accounts of affective ToM, whereby our own emotions alter the engagement of key brain regions for social cognition, depending on the compatibility between one’s own and others’ affect.

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, nsae016
Corrado Corradi˗Dell'Acqua
Corrado Corradi˗Dell'Acqua
Neuroscientist - Cognitive Psychologist - Data Scientist